Saturday, May 05, 2012

Exercise

OK, I'm obviously turning into one of those obnoxious Modern People. I started Pilates today *, with a class at a nice place in Rome that doesn't charge the earth, is friendly, clean, modern and seems to be populated entirely with other women and gay men. I did two classes today, in fact, which may not have been the brightest move. Nonetheless, I was so enthused that having done so surprisingly well at the Machines class, (it's weird, bear with me) I thought I'd just dive in and try the mat exercises ... at which I did somewhat less well. (It was pretty comical, actually, I kept falling off the foam tube thing. But everyone else seemed to manage it, so I figure better balance will come in time.)

And truthfully, though I spent the morning doing more exercise than I've done in at least ten years, I don't hurt, haven't had the expected collapse or nap attack and actually feel better. A little achey in the leg where I stretched some of the tendons and muscles that were damaged by surgery, but nothing terrible. And I was able to come home and do my work, which is a huge bonus. A big problem has been that I've got to do two things a day, class and work, and have sufficient energy really only for one, and class comes earlier in the day, which means my work has been suffering, and I've been fighting exhaustion. What I most hope to start with is that energy will increase, and the permanent state of exhaustion will begin to recede.

And most of all, I really, REALLY enjoyed it. Way more than I was expecting. It has been about 20 years since I've done any serious exercise programme, since the end of my fencing period. When I was fencing regularly, about three times a week, I was also doing strength training and fencing-specific exercises to hone my form, speed and precision. I was 24 and I was bullet-proof, baby.

I've never forgotten that wonderful feeling of being completely inside my skin, totally in control of every movement. It was like being a superhero, and I really missed it. I dabbled a little in Vancouver with various martial arts, taking a Wushu class here and an Aikido class there, a Crane Karate class over there, but nothing stuck, and I let the whole thing lapse in the last ten years. I've missed it, and today, though I was obviously the slowest one in the class, I felt it again. I could be bullet-proof again. It's thrilling.

The health kick is probably a very good reaction to the Stuff that's been going on, and probably the best thing I could be doing right now, for a lot of reasons. But the cancer treatment, and its potentially devastating aftermath has, frankly, scared the crap out of me. Just the fact that I even had cancer still scares the crap out of me. And the medical facts are still a horror. Statistics are a bitch. After [H-word] I can expect a lot of very unpleasant things to happen, up to and including the generally shortened life-expectancy. Osteoporosis, recurrence, huge and hideous weight gain, sudden and irreversible increase in all physical aspects of aging, all the horrors of menopause, times ten, because it is surgically-induced and premature, sudden onset and dramatically increased.
 
Since The Surgery, I've been resting and reading, and waiting for the time to start working and coming back to life, testing to see how much I could do, precisely how much energy each of my activities takes, how much I could handle, and how much pain and exhaustion each of them would cost. I've actually been keeping a diary of sorts, to try to get a concrete idea of how much life I can live. And reading a lot to see what I could do to expand the life and minimise the cost.

I knew I had to do something about my poor beleaguered body. It's been a bit knocked about lately, and the news about what happens to you after all the stuff I've had really wasn't making me happy. The average poundage put on by women who have had [H-word] is 25 to FORTY!! Gahhh!! As if my self image hasn't taken enough of a hammering lately. Now I'm going to turn into a giant wobbly blob of hideous goo. With brittle bones.

Bloody hell! Bugger that. I've been reading about this stuff, and the basic rules still apply no matter what sort of hideous mutilating and castration you've been put through. It's the physics of the body: base metabolic rate + exercise = the number of calories you can take in per day without getting gooey and horrible. Increase either or both, and drop the caloric intake, and you win. It's just that [H-word] drops your metabolic rate, and the "average" woman is pretty sedentary. So, the first thing to do was to get the hell of that sofa. Which started pretty well on April 9th, the day I started going back to Andrea's art classes. This meant, between walking to and from the train, and to and from the station in Rome, about an hour of walking a day, five days a week, which seems to have been a good thing to start with.

I've been doing minute calculations for a few weeks, tracking the stuff I habitually eat, knocking some off the list and cutting back on other things (who knew a handful of hazelnuts would have the nutritional equivalent of a whole meal?), and as I've mentioned previously, totally cutting out processed white sugar, and nearly all grains. (Though I totally caved the other night at the Avengers, with a giant bucket of popcorn and a packet or so of peanut M&Ms and some gummy worms - but how often do I go to the movies?)

A bunch of other things, like not getting enough sleep, also slow down your metabolism, so I've started being really strict about bed time - no later than ten - and  almost all of these are more or less common sense. And yes, I've put on 3 kilos since my immediate post-surgery low of 74 kilos in March. At that size, I looked pretty good, though the surgery had made me kind of weirdly shaped, and I'm not interested in getting to be a skinny little thing. (Went there once, and it was... bad.) It just can't be that hard to maintain it.

And everything I've read about Pilates is that if you are relying on it alone to lose weight,  it won't necessarily outstrip the calories you eat. But it significantly alters your body's appearance, shifting things around, building muscle mass, and strengthening and lengthening your muscles.  It redistributes your muscles and fat, making you look better, even if you don't actually get smaller. And today, I certainly did feel my heart rate increasing, so it's got to be good for something at least.

The other [H-word] thing is osteoporosis, and I've been reading about that too, and fluctuating wildly between hysterical bouts of horrified, mindless panic and despair, (Oh, Hi Depression, nice to see you again...) and determination that IT FRACKING WELL WON'T HAPPEN TO ME. Apparently, exercise is, again, part of the solution. In the case of osteo, it's weight-bearing resistance and high-impact, basically weight training and jumping, dropping on your feet. I was surprised to see, however, that all the studies - I don't read stupid "support" websites, I read peer review journal articles - say that even a teeny bit of high-impact exercise per day will really do a lot towards staving it off. I was surprised at how little it takes. That and the HRT I'm on which is supposed to be very good for preventing bone loss.

Overall, I think it is just impossible for eating more green vegetables, fruit and high-protein food, ditching sugar and grains, combined with a bunch of exercise, to go wrong.

I just hope I don't bore you all to death talking about it incessantly.



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* For which I wore trousers in public. First time since 1998!